Dear Ted

Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own - by writing to: Dear Ted, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX. Or email:

I'm 36 and, 12 months ago, moved to my second school in three years. The emphasis is on assessment, and we're given little responsibility. Should I move?

Ted says

Do I go or do I stay? This is a dilemma faced by many teachers unhappy with the way their school is run. You have three options, one of which is the weedy response: shrug your shoulders and soldier on. Two other possibilities are to try to improve your situation within the school so your grievances evaporate, or find another school more sympathetic to your personality.

Changing a school from within is not always a matter of banging on the head's door and saying, "Look here, FothergillI" It depends on what is amenable to change and whether your colleagues hold the same view. Is there a grouch that teachers are not given responsibility? Do others feel the strain of assessment fatigue? If so, perhaps you should ask for these matters to be on the agenda of a staff meeting. If not, see the head alone.

Personalities can be important here. An anal-retentive, obsessive head may be reluctant to share out responsibilities. Furthermore, some assignments might bring more paperwork, and this may not be what you want. Emphasis on assessment originates from outside, so the question is really whether your school is over-reacting or merely suffering from a common distress. Look at the nature of the pressure. Is it from parents? League tables? Different pressures need different solutions. Beware of jumping too readily elsewhere as you may run into similar problems.

First, try discussing your concerns with the head in a constructive manner, perhaps volunteering for a particular role that suits your energetic personality, to the benefit of the school. Keep the temperature as low as possible because if things turn acrimonious you may get a rotten reference (or an absolute blinder, if the head is glad to see the back of you).

You say

Look before you leap - again

You say you've been teaching for three years and are already on your second school, although you don't say why. What, I wonder, was wrong with the first school; and if it wasn't what you wanted, didn't you have a careful look at your second before moving there? Still, at the very least, you should know what to avoid the third time round.

Assessment is now the name of the game - with monitoring, targeting, and tracking. New heads are unlikely to get a headship these days unless they bow to these false gods, just as 20 years ago you didn't get a headship unless you favoured a very "child-centred" school which often ultimately resembled a permanent wet playtime. Needless to say, few of these fashions have anything much to do with proper education and everything to do with climbing on the bandwagon. It's more difficult to find a school with a head who's bold enough to make a stand and allows his or her teachers a creditable amount of freedom, though given the current shortage of people who want top management in schools, there's room for manoeuvre.

So, the answer to your question is yes, you should move, but not just yet. Consolidate your position so that you get a good reference, then look around carefully for a school that offers you the freedom you want; you should be able to tell by chatting to the staff. And in the right school the absence of constant assessment should also be readily noticeable on the faces of the children.

Primary head, Kent

The best is still to come

You should have gained a lot of experience of assessment and modification of practice in your present school. So, if you decide some time after Christmas to start looking for another post, highlight these aspects. Don't be surprised if your head is unhappy about your attempts to leave and that receiving heads have doubts because of a perceived lack of loyalty to the institution you are working in.

You will do the children and the school absolutely no favours in expressing your discontent in a negative manner. It is my experience, having worked as a head twice and having worked in several schools at eight levels, that it takes a year to get a real feel for a school, and that, as such, your best time may be based on what happens over the next two years.

Mike Hardacre, Wolverhampton

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